Over the last 10 years, researchers in the field of positive psychology have used empirical methods to study the factors that help people create happiness and flourishing. Even more exciting, these researchers have translated their findings into concrete strategies that anyone can use to improve overall well-being – no winning lottery ticket, tropical vacation, fantasy romance, high powered job, or even therapy required!
In his most recent book, “Flourish”(2011), Martin Seligman argues that the concept of well-being is made up of 5 measurable elements:
· Positive emotion – pleasure, happiness, life satisfaction
· Engagement - opportunities to use your strengths to meet the challenges that come your way
· Positive Relationships
· Meaning - belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than yourself
· Accomplishment – success, achievement, mastery
In this way, well-being is a combination of both feeling good and “doing” good. Seligman contends that when individuals maximize all 5 elements they thrive emotionally, mentally and physically.
In fact, evidence has been pouring in on just how beneficial optimism and happiness actually is. Studies show people who are optimistic are less vulnerable to anxiety, depression, PTSD and other forms of mental illness. Others demonstrate that happy people are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease, colds, flus, and other illnesses. Those with high levels of life satisfaction cope better with stress and tend to sleep more fitfully. Positive people live longer. Other benefits of happiness include higher incomes, superior work outcome and greater social rewards. Sonya Lyubomirsky and her colleagues have further demonstrated that happy individuals are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, and have better self-control.
Positive Psychologists have have also shown that life satisfaction is not elusive, genetic or largely dependent upon external events. Certain simple, intentional activities can lead to substantial positive changes in one’s life. Moreover, when we start bringing positivity into our lives it tends to become a self-perpetuating cycle. Happiness is within your reach!
Below you will find a sample of 5 different “happiness building” exercises that have been proven to help improve one’s well-being.
Practice Kindness - Find one wholly spontaneous, kind thing to do each day and just do it. Notice what happens to your mood. These activities don’t have to be momentous. Smiles, hugs, opening a door, bringing someone a coffee, offering a ride are examples of easy ways to show kindness to another.
The Gratitude Visit - Close your eyes and call up the face of someone still alive who, in the past, did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked, someone you could meet face to face next week. Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to that individual and deliver it in person.
What Went Well (WWW)? - Every night for a week, set aside 10 minutes and write down three things that went well that day and why they went well.
Choose a Positive Outlook –
· Be a cheerleader for yourself, rather than your own worst critic. Take more credit for your
successes. Learn from your setbacks and then let them go. Avoid ruminating about your
· Ask yourself: “Will this really matter a month from now, 6 months from now or a year from now?”
· Use your resources to solve problems where possible and practice acceptance when there is no
· Choose helpful thoughts over harmful ones.
Improve Your Relationships – How you help your friends and loved ones celebrate is more predictive of a strong relationship than how you fight. Next time someone you care about tells you about something good that happened to her go out of your way to respond actively and constructively. That means asking her to relive the experience with you, and providing enthusiastic support.
Savoring – The ability to truly appreciate the positive experiences in your life is one of the most important ingredients for happiness.
· Reminisce with family and friends.
· Create albums of treasures from happy events.
· Replay happy moments and days in your head.
· Take the time to really celebrate special occasions and good news.
· Be open to experiencing beauty and excellence.
· Practice mindfulness.
If you are looking to increase your well-being and life satisfaction, take a moment to reflect upon the positive emotions, opportunities for engagement, relationships, meaning involvement and accomplishments in your life. How are you doing in each area? Where could improvements be made? What is going really well? Then, choose an appropriate “happiness builder” from the list above. Put the power of positive to work in your life by committing to completing that activity on a regular basis. Continue to try out some of the other exercises over the coming weeks. Given recent research findings, there’s a great chance you will find yourself much happier a month from now.
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. Penguin Books, NY.
Seligman, Martin. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. Free Press, NY.